The U.S. Assemblies of God has a mandate, a problem, and a need.
Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” was for all believers (Mark 16:15, NLT). It’s not a question or a suggestion, but a mandate from heaven. All Christians are called to cover the earth with the love of Christ.
Jesus commanded all His followers to share the gospel, but it is the responsibility of vocational ministers to equip believers and lead them in this task (Ephesians 4:11–13).
However, we have a problem in our current system. Although our Movement is youthful, that is not reflected within the ranks of our vocational leaders. Roughly half (52%) of U.S. AG adherents are under the age of 35, with 31% aged 6–24 alone. Yet since 1979, the average age of ministers has increased — jumping from 50 to 61 years of age for ordained ministers, and from 37 to 49 for licensed ministers. We have not developed the next generation of vocational ministers.
Meanwhile, fewer Americans are affiliating with organized religion. This trend is especially prominent among the teen and young adult members of Generation Z. Nearly 40% percent of Americans aged 13–25 have no religious affiliation, a larger share than any other group, according to Springtide Research Institute.
We must develop younger vocational ministers. I believe a pipeline is needed that moves through four phases:
Before students can respond to God’s call on their lives, they need to identify the call. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.
As leaders, we should provide space for the Holy Spirit to speak to students’ hearts and reveal their calling. This can happen in weekly services, during a retreat or convention, in times of focused prayer, or even during one-on-one conversations with students.
Many of us remember that moment when we first sensed God’s calling — where we were, how we felt, and with whom we shared the news. We know the importance of this season and how it can change the course of a young person’s life.
It truly is a unique honor to walk alongside students as they say “yes” to God’s plan and call. Leaders must steward that opportunity well.
It’s one thing for students to hear from God, but if leaders fail to equip them for the journey, those moments may become little more than memories.
How can we prepare students for a lifetime of vocational ministry? Here are some ways to help them start living out their calling right now, right where they are:
This is not a guaranteed formula for success, of course. But these suggestions do come from my interactions with people who have experienced success and longevity in ministry.
The AG has an incredible network, with 13,000 churches in the U.S. and more than 357,000 more around the world. As young pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and church planters gain training and become equipped, we need to be intentional about empowering them and releasing them into churches, ministries, and missions positions.
We don’t have to wait until students are “qualified” to begin releasing them to do ministry now, though. And we shouldn’t! Consider ways to deploy students in your local churches or districts. Encourage them to take advantage of opportunities that are available, such as participating in short-term missions trips, leading small groups, or volunteering in an area of interest.
Walk alongside them, offering wisdom, encouragement and counsel as they take part in what God is doing now. When the time comes to release them into full-time ministry, you will have played a valuable part in helping them gain the knowledge, experience and confidence they need to walk in their calling.
Even after young leaders are equipped with the right tools and released into healthy ministry environments, they need support.
The Church must provide ongoing leadership development to ensure our young vocational ministry leaders stay Spirit-empowered, biblically engaged, and missionally minded.
It can be tempting for new ministers to focus on those things church culture often suggests are important, such as titles, ministry size, years of experience, and financial success. But when those things become the goal, leaders become unhealthy.
Personal growth and leadership development should be the priorities. We need to provide the resources and support young ministers need to keep moving in the right direction — regardless of where they are on the journey.
The ultimate goal is to ensure longevity as ministry leaders are fulfilling their God-given call.
As a Fellowship, we want a healthy church in every community that is growing spiritually and numerically. That will happen only as we raise up healthy pastors, missionaries, evangelists, chaplains, church planters, and other leaders who are Spirit-empowered, biblically engaged, and missionally minded.
This pipeline has the potential to answer the mandate, resolve the problem, and fill the need in the Assemblies of God. It’s the responsibility of all believers to share the gospel, but it’s up to vocational ministers to lead the charge.
To not only survive, but also thrive, in the years ahead, we need to work to see the youthfulness of our Movement reflected in the demographics of our vocational leaders.
By creating pipelines that identify, equip, release and develop young leaders, we can see students establish a firm foundation on which to build healthy ministries. And we will develop the next generation of vocational ministers to answer the call God has placed on their lives.
This article appears in the April–June 2021 edition of Influence magazine.
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